[Viewpoint] President Lee’s middle way

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[Viewpoint] President Lee’s middle way


U.S. President Bill Clinton found himself in a crisis when the Democratic Party suffered a landslide defeat in the 1994 midterm election. The one who saved him from the political crisis was his cold-blooded adviser, Dick Morris. He proposed to President Clinton a so-called policy of “triangulation.” It was a tactic to adopt policies corresponding to the middle point of the two sides toward the vertex at the top. The justification is taking the pragmatic middle way. Morris suggested cutting down the financial deficit and achieving a balanced budget by reducing social welfare. The move reflected the public sentiment revealed in the midterm election. After serious contemplation, President Clinton accepted Morris’ advice despite the resistance of core Democrats and was successfully re-elected in 1996.

The triangulation strategy is reportedly an important theoretical basis supporting President Lee Myung-bak’s theory to reinforce the midway. However, it won’t be easy for the president to practice the theory, given Korea’s rigid political climate. As expected, President Lee is criticized as a traitor and opportunist by the hard-line conservatives, just as some Democrats called Clinton a Republican. If Lee fails to cope with the present crisis, the theory of reinforcing the midway becomes useless political rhetoric.

However, it is a different story if Lee displays the endurance to convince the party and promote flexible, moderate policy. He would open a new era, in which the president drastically embraces the ideas of the opponents, if the majority of the citizens want it. Of course, he would have to solidly stand by the conservative values of free-market constitutionalism. Lee Myung-bak’s middle way will make a considerable impact on the inter-Korean relationship as well. Instead of power-oriented confrontation, the spirit of pragmatism, flexibility, coexistence and prosperity will drive the development of the relationship. The international community is comparing the inter-Korean relationship with cross-strait relations. Korea and China, the only two divided regions on earth since the end of the Cold War, are going through dramatic changes. Until recently, the inter-Korean relationship was a model for China and Taiwan. However, the situation was reversed when pragmatist Ma Ying-jeou ran as a Kuomintang candidate for president and won in March 2008. Immediately after the inauguration, the first historic cross-strait high-level meeting was held. In July 2009, charter flights began offering direct service between mainland China and Taiwan for the first time in 59 years, since the Chinese Civil War ended. In November, the era of Three Links opened with direct postal service, transportation and trade, beginning extensive exchange and cooperation.

Economic cooperation is accelerating this year. The 60-year-old ban on Taiwanese investment in Chinese companies was lifted. The 100 industries that allowed Taiwanese investment included 64 manufacturing industries, such as computers, electronics, textiles, apparel and pharmaceuticals; 25 service industries, such as transportation; and 11 public construction industries, such as airlines, harbors and tourism and leisure facilities. China and Taiwan will sign an economic cooperation framework pact (ECFA), a Chinese version of a free trade agreement, in the second half of this year. Analysts forecast that Korea’s IT industry would be hurt if Chinese capital is combined with Taiwanese technology to have world-class competitiveness. Some call the dramatic turn of tension “Chiwan,” or a “New KMT-CCP Alliance.” It contrasts with the rapidly freezing inter-Korean relations in the year and half of the Lee Myung-bak administration.

President Lee and President Ma have a lot in common. They both ran for president as a conservative opposition candidate and successfully accomplished a transition of power. They both served as the major of the capital city, Lee in Seoul and Ma in Taipei. Their presidential election promise was to revive the economy. Now, President Lee Myung-bak is promoting the midway theory as the basis of national administration, emphasizing pragmatism and communication. Perhaps he will be able to come up with a more versatile policy combination in inter-Korean relations than what Ma had done for the cross-strait relations. Of course, there is the handicap that the North Korean regime is far more stubborn than China.

However, if President Lee makes a flexible, pragmatic approach, he would be able to turn the current confrontation into coexistence and prosperity. China and Taiwan stood by more realistic principles by pursuing civilian-level, economic and partial exchanges rather than government-level, political and general exchanges. Yet, they are heading toward a state of unification. What concerns me is that cross-strait progress will drastically enhance the competitiveness of China and Taiwan and affect Korea’s businesses. Now, improvement in inter-Korean relations has become part of a core agenda to prove the sincerity and power of President Lee Myung-bak’s midway theory


The writer is an assistant chief editor of the JoongAng Ilbo.

by Lee Ha-kyung

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